Biden interviewers shed light on his frailty behind the scenes: ‘It’s impossible not to notice’

Jul 10, 2024 | Latest News | 0 comments

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The legacy media has faced intense scrutiny in recent weeks over its past coverage of President Biden, with critics accusing journalists of covering up his mental decline, which was on full display at last month’s presidential debate. 

Perhaps the only members of the media, besides the White House press corps, who have had exposure to the generally media-reclusive president are those who have been able to interview him. Biden has shattered norms by granting fewer interviews than any other American president in modern history. Those reporters able to sit down with him were given a rare window to observe whether Biden’s mental health is as bad as his conservative critics say it is or as good as his liberal defenders claim. 

Fox News Digital reached out to 20 Biden interviewers during his presidency. Only two were willing to speak, on the condition of anonymity. 

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The first interviewer, who has had several interactions with Biden over the years, saw that he was “stiffer physically” when interviewing him this year.  

“I noticed this especially in the context of his age and the reports of his being frail. He was,” the interviewer told Fox News Digital. “His eyes were watery, once seemed maybe irritated, a bit glassy.”

“I was left with the impression that he is old, and it’s impossible not to notice this and be focused on it. His voice is so soft,” the interviewer added. 

The interviewer did acknowledge that Biden was “fine with small talk” and that “nothing stood out as unusual” as far as witnessing any mental lapses. 

“I don’t know if it’s what people want as president,” the interviewer said. “But what I’ve seen isn’t as good as his defenders say and not as bad as his haters say.”

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The second interviewer, who has similarly crossed paths with Biden in the past, noticed in their exchange last year that the president “walked a little stiffly across the room” but was “engaged, responsive and able to address my questions.”

“I will say he was careful not to go on at length with answers,” the second interviewer told Fox News Digital. “It was clear he was trying to edit himself, possibly because he’d been coached to keep answers short.”

Both interviewers expressed frustration about their years-long efforts to get their sit-downs with Biden on the books and pointed out how his team was “upset” that their conversations went longer than the allotted time they were granted.

“They were clearly guarding him carefully,” the second interviewer told Fox News Digital. 

Biden’s inner circle appear to be especially on guard in his post-debate interviews. Two local radio hosts admitted in the past week that they were given questions to ask by the president’s team. One of them has already been ousted from her radio station. 

Not every interviewer has been completely silent about their experiences with the president.

Former ESPN host Sage Steele spoke candidly about her March 2021 interview with Biden and how he “trailed off” in their conversation. 

“It was satellite, it wasn’t in person. We’re having a technical issue. And so I had to, like, BS. I had to chitchat waiting for us to start rolling,” Steele told Bill Maher on his “Club Random” podcast last fall. “Well, what he started to do, of course he has someone next to him, and they keep a black, like, curtain over the lens of the camera, so you can’t see him until the last second, but you can hear, and we’re chitchatting… So I can hear him, and he goes, ‘What is this for?’… And he’s, like, ‘Who am I talking to? Wait—what’s her name?'”

“This is like a ‘Naked Gun’ movie,” Maher quipped. 

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“I was going, ‘Oh, my God!'” Steele exclaimed. “And then he said, ‘SportsCenter. ESPN.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, ok.’ And so I said, you know, what do you say? ‘Hi, Mr. President. Nice to meet you.’ And so I’m trying just to fill time. And he said, ‘You know, I used to play football’… And so he started to tell football stories of his greatness. And again, I can’t see him. You can see the curtain… He goes, ‘And I have the best hands.’ What do you say to that?”

She later continued, “And then I said, ‘Oh, so you were a receiver.’ And he started to explain it. And here’s the saddest thing — his voice just trailed off. He said, ‘I was good,’ and then he went silent, and he goes, ‘Uhh… never mind.’”

In an interview with Fox News Digital earlier this year, Steele revealed that her questions had been “scripted” by ESPN.

“That was an interesting experience in its own right because it was so structured,” Steele said. “And I was told, ‘You will say every word that we write out, you will not deviate from the script and go.’” 

Many of the questions Steele asked Biden in the March 2021 interview pertained to sports leagues attempting to restore normalcy during the COVID pandemic and vaccine hesitancy among athletes and fans. Her interview made headlines at the time when Biden supported the MLB’s All-Star game boycott of Atlanta following the passage of Georgia’s election reform law.

But everything Steele said to the president ultimately came from ESPN’s c-suite, according to the former ESPN host. 

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“To the word. Every single question was scripted, gone over dozens of times by many editors and executives. Absolutely. I was on script and was told not to deviate,” Steele told Fox News Digital. “It was very much ‘This is what you will ask. This is how you will say it. No follow-ups, no follow-ups. Next.’ … This went up to the fourth floor, as we said, where all the bosses, the top executives, the decision makers are, the president of our company, the CEO, where they all worked.”

Steele said she didn’t know for certain whether ESPN sent the questions to the White House in advance of the interview but seemed confident that is “what happened.” ESPN declined to comment. 

CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley, one of very few journalists who landed multiple interviews with Biden, offered a disclaimer to “60 Minutes” viewers ahead of the president’s first sit-down following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack against Israel.

“Late Thursday we met President Biden at the White House. It had been a rough week, and we could see it on him,” Pelley said.

“Mr. Biden will be 81 next month, and he has said when he is tired, his lifelong stutter can creep back in,” Pelley added, bracing viewers for what to expect from the president in the interview. 

Time magazine’s Massimo Calabresi, who interviewed Biden just weeks before the CNN debate, said the president “appears very much as he appears on TV” when he spoke with him.

“He is older than when he started in office. It‘s visible if you just look side-by-side on the tape,” Calabresi told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “The transcript is a good place for people to go to assess that. He was — we describe it in the piece as well, there’s some sort of colored description of how he appeared in there.”

ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, who sat down with Biden in last week’s high-stakes interview, said bluntly according to TMZ, “I don’t think he can serve four more years.” 

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In June 2022, the Associated Press landed one of Biden’s only print interviews during his presidency. In the transcript of that interview released by the AP, it described parts of Biden’s quotes as “inaudible” 11 times and “garble” twice, signaling how the president regularly fumbles over his words. 

“If I had told you (garble) … You’re not doing (inaudible),” one quote read from the interview transcript. 

Biden also went viral last year for wandering off set on live television as MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace wrapped up their interview.

“Before the debate there were brief moments when Biden’s cognitive fitness emerged as a major focus of the press corps, including after Biden’s ‘Where’s Jackie?’ gaffe of September 2022, when the briefing room devolved into a testy prosecution of Karine Jean-Pierre’s ‘top of mind’ excuse — with loudly shouted questions about the president’s mental acuity coming from journalists who do not work for outlets with conservative opinion sections,” one White House reporter told Fox News Digital. 

“However, on most pre-debate days, questions about Biden’s age and ability to serve a full second term were regarded as rude and best handled with extreme delicacy. Now, it’s socially acceptable to ask nearly any question about Biden’s mental health.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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